A REJOINDER: To “Does a late diagnosis of Autism affect self-esteem?

10 Sep
TITLE: WELCOMING THE LIGHT
Photo by: Bing C. Veloso, Location: Las Pinas City, Philippines
Photo Title: WELCOMING THE LIGHT
Photo by: Bing C. Veloso, Location: Las Pinas City, Philippines, Date: September 10, 2021

I am Bing Veloso, an adult autistic.

I am honored that Dr. Covey asked me to write a rejoinder to her beautiful article on adult autistics.

To start off, I am representing only a small percentage of the autism spectrum, the ones who are invisible because we look “normal”. We are the ones who usually get the comments such as: “Oh! You don’t look autistic!”; “Are you sure? You may just be seeking attention! Get hold of yourself!” 

We are called the “high functioning autistics”, formerly diagnosed by professionals as those with Aspergers. The research mentioned by Dr. Covey seemed to be about our segment of the spectrum. Being made more “visible” through this article and the said research gives me hope that we may indeed be able to work on helping each other through the mystery of autism.

This leads us to the question: What kind of accommodation do invisible adult autistics need to be able to have a quality of life?

It is helpful that Dr. Covey shared that the results of the said research showed that self-esteem seemed to be higher among late diagnosed autistics. Being diagnosed at the age of 51 years old (I am now 53 years old), I can say that most of my life, my family, friends, colleagues, and whoever has known me, were clueless about something we all could not put our finger on – that which made me different and was causing me difficulties in relationships. Thus, navigating my way through a much-hoped-for fruitful career and even basic family relationships were intensely challenging. I have lost many jobs and relationships even if I tried and tried and tried my best. My life before diagnosis was like going through a labyrinth with so many dead ends.

Thus, it is my opinion, that all these attempts have helped me develop better self-esteem (but not good enough to be “normal” or be “cured of autism”. This may call for another rejoinder). One advantage I had was having the elbow room and freedom not to be put in the “autistic box” by others, whether professionals or family or friends or colleagues.

Early diagnosed autistics do not have this choice. This does not mean though those late-diagnosed ones have it easy. The issue of abandonment is strong because people just do not know how to handle us nor do we know how to handle ourselves. Maybe that is also the reason for the strong advocacy of “autism pride” among late diagnosed autistics. It is to get back those years of wandering in the deserts of cluelessness.

Another thing worth sharing is a distinct character or experience observed among late-diagnosed autistics. The emotional rejection of being diagnosed as autistic is not so prominent. In fact, instead of being unhappy about being diagnosed as autistic, we “throw parties” and celebrate.  It is because we have been self-diagnosing for a long time and finally, the pieces of the puzzle fit and make sense. The exhaustion of the search for answers and battling the inner unknown has come to an end, so to speak.  Indeed, a formal diagnosis is a confirmation worth celebrating. We even kid ourselves about this in our facebook groups (yes, we do have fb groups!) that of all mental conditions, autistics may be the only ones who celebrate when diagnosed formally.

Yet, formal diagnosis is still elusive and rare for those who think they need to be diagnosed of autism. It also does not mean that all problems are solved and we can now live happily ever after. It is only the start of another phase wherein appropriate contact and support are needed. This time, it is intentional and better directed. We need to help each other and also to have family, friends, and professionals who will walk with us in navigating through the remaining years of our lives, and hopefully, to regain the lost years.

In this, I am hoping that AAAP may be of help. The appropriate support from pre-diagnosis to post-diagnosis may be explored and offered. Among them can be helping adult autistics have access to formal diagnosis, conducting studies in profiling adult autistics so as to identify appropriate support, providing services to “regain the lost years” in terms of education and training opportunities, work opportunities, and socialization opportunities.

Presently, I have found my special interest in sign language. I find it therapeutic. I have also found new friends and families in the Deaf Community who have been teaching me to navigate from being a person with disabilities to becoming a person with different abilities. I also found out that it may be possible to make this into a career by helping out other autistics learn sign language especially those needing career opportunities. A special prayer I have is for the non-verbal/non-speaking autistics and their families. I am hoping that we, as an autistic community, be able to embrace sign language as a tool/skill for communicating with each other. This may provide a ray of hope for them.

To end, I would like to thank Dr. Covey who has been providing me with much-needed contact and support. She has been an amazing mentor and Tita both in my victories and challenges. With much hope, I pray that there will be more Dr. Lirio Covey’s in the world. Then, we will have more included, accommodated, and happier autistics and autistic families.

September 10, 2021
Las Pinas City, Philippines

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